Last night on the promenade I was taking a walk, photographing flowers.Read More
As airfares have decreased and it has become more affordable to travel, more people have taken advantage, and travel for all sorts of reasons, entertainment being a large one, but not the only one. There are many wonderful and life affirming reasons to travel. Indeed as Mark Twain is quoted often and sometimes even on the backlit billboards in airports “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” There are many good considerate people who do it too, but we live in a ‘weakest link’ culture where the behaviour of the worst, dictates the conditions of carriage for the rest of us. Unfortunately.
I wrote about tourism in my 2016 book “An Equal Difference” just as it was peaking in Iceland. Having nearly completed a tour of Scotland including the Orkneys and the inner and outer Hebrides, the sentiments expressed ring true for those places, and truer in the world at large more so now than ever. While the English fry along with the French in France’s summer heat, the Americans are intrepid as ever in Iceland, the French are frolicking in England, the Germans are generally everywhere, but a lot of them are in Scotland, the Chinese too are everywhere, but still mostly in China, and the Scottish, well, where are the Scottish? In Scotland presumably. The Spanish might be too economically stressed to travel much and so perhaps are happy to stay in Spain for now, as it is glorious, while the Italians host boat after boatload of tourists from everywhere, accelerating the demise of their watery city. We circulate now more than ever and that has benefits (climate impact aside, how can we put it aside?) but that isn’t what I’m as concerned with.
Neolithic sites like The Ring of Brodgar on mainland Orkney is closed to foot traffic due to subsidence. Yet day in day out the coaches pull up stuffed with tourists, and the people get out by the hundreds to walk around an ever widening ring. The camper vans are still rented and driven badly, as the businesses are keen to turn a buck and the tourists are keen to travel by camper, and who can blame them? I'm on a motorcycle so it's a lot less frustrating but I've seen some pretty stupid driving. The locals I've spoken to, who are for me, as fascinating if not more so than the landscapes I visit and my primary reason for travel, are frustrated and yet suspended in a state of complacency. No one seems to hold all the information necessary for an amicable and clever solution.
As one self-identified tourist from Paris visiting Skye told me, it’s work booking a holiday for the cheapest fare, and by the time you get on your way with it you’re already frustrated. Maybe that is where some of the attitudes of entitlement come from. Mix this with ignorance and the right amount of fear and you get the dreaded tourist driving inconsiderately on single track roads, dumping camper van waste illegally, flocking to areas in coaches and cruise ships and imposing their cultural normatives and ignorance in regions unfamiliar to them. This is of course only the worst of it, and by no means all of it.
You can imagine why locals are frustrated by the rise in popularity of their private enclaves which bring all manner of people with a variety of manners, and some with no manners at all. This is especially true in Skye, which has a flavour of Hampton-like decadent transience overlaid on its otherwise sumptuous simplicity, where the number of English nearly outnumber the number of Scottish and police had to turn away visitors to it last year because there were no more rooms at any of the Inns.
Then, there is the North Coast 500 route where tourists drive fast cars and move through the area like locusts on the feed. The NC500 is a branding exercise undertaken by the Scottish Tourist Board for a stretch of roads that locals have driven for as long as there have been roads (some roads were vastly improved under European schemes), and is fast becoming a victim of its own success, not unlike Iceland.
As infrastructure and local temperament fail to keep up with the rise in popularity, the question comes to the forefront but what is being done about it? Sites are closing. Some say levy a charge, but when has fining people ever truly changed behaviour? If you want to change behaviour, surely rewarding that which we’d like to encourage would be more effective. Isn’t that just basic parenting advice?
I hear consistent frustration from locals, and see contradictions in practice. Surely the solution would best come from those on the ground who are most affected by this phenomenon. But what is the first step? Let’s not even get into how social media has changed travel and caused mass migration to specific sites (see the end of this article). I haven’t even touched on the ecological impact of budget travel because it’s just too huge a topic in itself.
More conversations need to be had (and publicly) across the tourists boards, local municipalities, with the business owners and residents as well travellers. What is the cost benefit analysis of mass tourism and how will it survive in a sustainable manner moving forward?
Here is the excerpted chapter on tourism as it appeared in “An Equal Difference”. You can purchase the ebook or limited edition hardback online and/or read another sample chapter.
The portraits in order are:
Svanhildur Konráðsdóttir, the then director of the Department of Culture and Tourism for the City of Reykjavík
Íris Ólafsdóttir, Inventor of Kula3D
Bergljót Begga Rist, small business owner of Íslenskí Hesturinn, The Icelandic Horse
The last portrait is of the cartoonist/writer /comedian Hugleikur Dagsson.
If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably like this too. https://landlopers.com/2018/01/29/respectful-travel
Also check out @insta_wrecked if you’d like examples of abhorrent behaviour, individual and simply cause and effect. These are just some examples of the ‘weakest links’ locals have to contend with and we as responsible travellers must apologise for on our merry way.
The fella on the right was my ferryman at Cromarty a couple of weeks back. He told me to go to the Giant Angus MacAskill museum somewhere in Skye. He loves giants and strongmen in general. I told him I met @thorbjornsson once and asked to stand next to him - I came up to his nipples. Yer man was a bit disappointed at this description, given my small stature I suppose. I wrote down his name along with the museum location somewhere, but I haven’t located that yet. It could be in my many many digital files or perhaps on paper. I’m organised at least 1/2 of the time which is how I manage to pull of trips like this, but some finer details slip through my fingers. What I omitted in my instgram post was that this man, wondering aloud at what I was up to, wanted to know how I earned my living. And when I told him I was a self-employed photographer and writer, he sort of scowled like this, and queried “You mean like freelance?” Yes. “Good luck with that self-employed freelancing then,” he scoffed as we parted. I read his tone as jealousy more than skepticism, though for some fucking reason his doubt still stung.
Anyhow, there I was this morning without a care in the world or such paper or digital file, on my way to the @thethreechimneysskye (which was epic) for lunch when I spot the museum! So I double back and go in. A family of three is ahead of me ringing the bell. The sign says to go in if no one comes. So the family rings again and after a minute we go in. There he stands, a life-size replica of the tallest Scottish man to live, with full faculty, in fact, he had a rather successful career and was a professional showman. He stands alongside a replica of Tom Thumb, his partner and co-star. But what gets me is Peter who eventually comes in and explains the history of the museum, he's on the left. He’s the reason this museum exists and has done for 30 years. People, of course, shook their heads and told him he was crazy. Let me interject with a great George Bernard Shaw quote "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Peter is a direct descendant of Angus and also the father of biking celebrity Danny MacAskill @Danny_macaskill No one here seems reasonable. Quite extraordinary in fact. I learned all this in the museum and I’m leaving things out but you can find em. I felt immediate affection for Peter who explained the story of how he hurt his hand and couldn’t take a picture of me in the chair (and a great many other things. He’d had “too much hospitality” that night.
Check out the museum, check out Danny (if you don’t already know, I’m the last on these things). I just enjoyed his Danny Daycare video. Given what he does it must have made Peter chuckle on the inside to watch me nervously back out of his gravel driveway. I’m caining it on that sheep road to the wonderful house I’m staying at now, but farting around slow on gravel still spooks me. Especially if there are potholes or uneven surfaces. And this is Scotland so guess how much of that there is. Grade A day. See @hengetohengefor a post at the lighthouse later on.
Looking north west towards my route today, the sun is shining and I’m nearly packed. Thanks to Aiko and Davide’s neighbours James and Kim who I visited last night, I have these words by Howie Firth to guide me on my way to Orkney. It also paves the road to places I will visit.
From the artist and photographer Gunnie Moberg’s book (which they very kindly loaned me) “A Swedish Orcadian”:
“Orkney's position, an island crossroads where
sea-routes meet, has brought from early times
travellers and perspectives from many cultures.
Mediterranean voyagers set up the Neolithic
standing stones and burial mounds. Later came
the Norse who built St Magnus Cathedral. Some
Orcadians are descended from shipwreck survivors
who included Spanish Armada crewmen and
Scottish Covenanters. Two world wars have
brought further people, as have North Sea oil and
renewable energy, art and archaeology
Orkney absorbs them all, and gets something of
immense value- fresh ways of looking at the
world. And this is part of the essence of being an
Orcadian -to be open to new ideas and adapt and
This is absolutely the spirit in which I venture forth, in search of fresh ways of looking at the world. Speaking of which, I have also just discovered through them, Gunnie’s son’s work @paulmacphail , a local Portadian? (Please corrrct) who makes wonderful works of art on the beach. I highly recommend you have a look at both artists’ work. I go forth with the spirit of adventure and connection deep in my heart.